The power of innovation

Eight Danida alumni took part in an innovation journey of a lifetime in Shenzhen. Photo: UNLEASH

After being emerged in a weeklong innovation lab, the verdict from the eight Danida alumni that took part in UNLEASH 2019 was clear: The true value lay in the innovation process, not its results.

By Nina Vlemmings & Vibeke Quaade

”Less overthinking”, ”put my ideas out there”, ”include others in problem solving processes” and ”leverage diverse expertise”. These were some of the actions and behavioural changes that the group of Danida alumni committed to after this year’s UNLEASH Innovation Lab in Shenzhen.

A transformative methodology

Jonas Christian Mortensen was one of the facilitators at UNLEASH 2019 in Shenzhen and is Capacity Building Officer at Save the Children Denmark. He describes the innovation process of UNLEASH as a catalyst to set aside possible differences and create a shared and resourceful global knowledge network.

"What inspires me is the level of commitment, motivation and passion the talents bring to UNLEASH. They come together and set aside their different backgrounds, to work for a better and more sustainable future. The UNLEASH talents become part of a greater SDG network, which provides them with access to huge amounts of knowledge and experience across the world", says Jonas Christian Mortensen.

This sentiment was clearly present during a wrap-up workshop in Shenzhen, facilitated by Danida Fellowship Centre for the eight Danida alumni that we supported through UNLEASH 2019.

The eight Danida alumni were invited to share what they would 1) stop doing, 2) do less/more of and 3) commit to taking full action on. Most of what came out of this exercise was not only deeply personal but also ambitious and hopeful. Many acknowledged a need to step far outside their comfort zones and entrenched habits in order to effect the change they want to see in themselves and their communities.

Danida alumni UNLEASH 2019
Developing their UNLEASH inspired 'Traffic light' of personal commitments and goals. Photo: Vibeke Quaade

Especially the more academic and technically focused professionals in the group appeared particularly moved by their time in Shenzhen. They explained that the practical and hands-on approach, as well as emphasis on story-telling and communications, were extremely complementary to the more theoretic and abstract nature of their day to day work.

"The process has taught me to spend more time with the end-users of a potential solution - getting to know their actual challenges and opportunities, as part of planning an intervention for them. The UNLEASH process also made me think about building solutions that are sustainable in the long-term, instead of short-term project-oriented targets and achievements," says Rinita Rezwana, Danida alum and Communication and Gender Officer of a Danida-funded agricultural programme in Bangladesh.

Applying tools for rapid problem solving and the collaborative methods of the UNLEASH methodology were also mentioned as some of the concrete learning experiences that have been truly eye-opening, and that was hence also a key motivating factor behind their commitments to changing personal behaviours and ways of working.

As a group, the eight Danida alumni UNLEASH talents agreed that innovation methodologies and cross-cultural collaboration should therefore not be considered a means to an end, but - as powerful learning processes - they can be the ultimate end in and of themselves. 

A community of like-minded changemakers

In addition, the group expressed that its members have a lot in common, besides their shared experiences in Denmark and Shenzhen. For starters, they all see clear parallels between their Danida Fellowship and their UNLEASH journey.

“My Danida Fellowship is relevant to my UNLEASH experience because I gained my first engineering experience as a Danida Fellow. UNLEASH has now given me the skills to tailor this to make an impact in society,” says Selorm Yaotse Dorvlo, Lecturer, University of Ghana.

Danida Alumni UNLEASH 2019
Danida alumni UNLEASH 2019 talents: A community of like-minded change-makers. Photo: Vibeke Quaade

The group also agreed that they are all passionate about solving problems and are driven by a curiosity and desire for change. They value thorough research but acknowledge that they apply it in different ways through their work. Finally, they are keen to leverage each other’s expertise and to be part of creating an inclusive Danida alumni community that leverages the UNLEASH innovation experience.

This community has the prospect to grow in both numbers and diversity over the coming years. Danida Fellowship Centre counts on supporting additional Danida alumni’s participation in the future UNLEASH Innovation Labs of 2020 and 2021.



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